‘Thingness of Godness’: Questioning the Adequacy of B.B. Warfield’s Trinitarianism

My e-friend, Michael Jones has started a new Facebook page; Reformed TheologiansIt looks as if Michael will be highlighting various quotes, pictures, and other things associated with the Reformed faith. He has a couple of warfielddrawingquotes up, currently, from Princeton theologian of yesteryear, B.B. Warfield. Michael offers this quote from Warfield on the Trinity:

The doctrine of the Trinity is “the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence.”

-B. B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Biblical and Theological Studies, p. 22.

I think this short quote offers an illustration of what sounds perfectly orthodox (and it is in many ways!), but it also illustrates something that I have been after for quite some time. For Warfield, as for Charles Hodge, the informing theology behind his thinking comes from Westminster Calvinism; and in particular, as for Hodge, and thus by way of influence, for Warfield, Francis Turretin’s Elenctic Theology (‘Polemic  Theology’) played an indubitle role in shaping his doctrine of God and the categories through which he thought.

All I want to highlight with this quote from Warfield on the Trinity, is that if the reader pays careful attention and reads slow enough; he or she will recognize the role that so called substance metaphysics or classical theism (the synthesis of Aristotelian categories with Christian Theology) is playing in giving expression to Warfield’s articulation of the Trinity. We have ‘unity of the Godhead’, that is good! We have ‘three coeternal and coequal Persons’, also good!! Then we have ‘the same substance but distinct in subsistence’, not good!!! What this substance language presupposes is the Aristotelian distinction between ‘essence’ and ‘accident’; the former is necessary attribution of a things constituent parts (like for Thomas Aquinas’ anthropology he believed that the intellect was the touchstone of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God), but the latter (i.e. accident) is not a necessary feature of what identifies someone as a human being—so a person can’t be a person without an intellect, but a person can still be person without having red hair or being a tennis player (these are accidents of their person-hood). If we use this dualism, this binary-code, this distinction to describe God’s oneness and threeness–as Warfield has–then we end up with a concept or thingness of Godness that stands behind the back or above the subsisting persons that flow from this thingness of Godness; one consequence of this is that there is no necessary relationship between being God (in unity) and the subsisting persons who hang arbitrarily below this essence or substance or thingness of Godness. The only thing correlating the oneness and threeness of God together in Warfield’s account is his piety and assertion; it is not his theology. [Let me add this clarification: What I am saying is that in Warfield’s account there is no necessary relationship between the person’s who subsist from the unity of God, and the unity of God. God could still be a unity without his subsistence, just as I could still be a human being without being a tennis player. Evangelical Calvinism, as construed by Myk, myself, and foremost, T. F. Torrance, offers a doctrine of the Trinity that works from what Torrance calls ‘onto-relations’. This emphasizes a subject-in-being distinction, but it is this distinction in perichoretic (interpenetrating relation) that defines the one subject of the Monarchia or God-head; so God’s oneness defines his threeness and his threeness defines his oneness. There is nothing subsisting in this schema, Godself if anything is his own subsistence in onto-relation one with the other … there is no God[ness] then behind the back of Jesus, or for that matter, behind the Holy Spirit.]

This is one of the reasons why in classic Westminster Calvinism we end up with a God who is disjointed, ruptured from within, impersonal and a host of other things when considering the theology that stands behind the beautiful piety of their classic Reformed faith. And this is why Warfield and others need to be questioned in regard to the adequacy of their relative doctrine of God, and other subsequent doctrines that follow—like theories of revelation, atonement, bibliology, salvation, etc.

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28 comments

  1. Bobby, how might Warfield’s theology of the Trinity affect the actual preaching of the gospel? Do students of Warfield preach differently than, say, students of Torrance?

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  2. A more generous reading of Warfield might see his language as cohering with Cappadocian Trinitarianism rather than being blatantly Aristolelian. The Cappadocians saw that “will” and “operation” indwelt the common nature of the Trinity, a point with Christological import: when, in the seventh century, the question of whether Christ possessed one or two wills, the location of the will in the shared nature of the hypostaseis of the Trinity provided a rationale for placing “will” in Christ’s two natures and not in his hypostasis. It was important that Christ’s human nature had its own will because “what is not assumed cannot be healed” (Gregory of Nazianzus), and the will needed redemption/sanctification as much as any other aspect of Christ’s humanity.

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  3. Fr Kimel,

    Yes, students of Torrance could preach this:

    “God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” ~T. F. Torrance, “The Mediation of Christ”, 94

    And students of Warfield, couldn’t. Because they believe that Jesus particularly died only for an elect and select group of individuals picked arbitrarily by God to be his people. They couldn’t preach a genuinely free grace Gospel to the masses, because the masses haven’t been elected or given the hope of salvation in the vicarious humanity of Christ.

    @Charles,

    Charles, that would be a generous glossy reading of Warfield. But I don’t think it coheres with his own intellectual context. I am not trying to understand Warfield constructively at this point, Charles; but instead, to see him contextually and genetically relative to the kind of theology he was promoting.

    Do you think a generous reading of Warfield is warranted? And I don’t mean by using him docetically so to speak.

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  4. Great quote from Torrance! I can understand why someone who believes in limited atonement could not preach that; but is limited atonement entailed by Warfield’s trinitarian doctrine? Isn’t that a different question?

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  5. Fr Kimel,

    I don’t think so. Because the question of salvation ultimately has to do with the informing doctrine of God. The informing doctrine of God for Warfield believes in a God who is shaped by impersonal substance metaphysics. A God who is impassible and immutable (framed by ARistotelian categories). With this conception of God, Warfield and his type of theology must have God relate to creation through impersonal decress (absolute decrees) which keep God untouched and unmoved by his creation. It is this kind of metaphysical law-like determinism (impersonal or non-Triune in emphasis) that fosters a context wherein concepts like the Covenant of Works/Grace can be cultivated from. God relates to his creation not primarily conditioned by his life of love, but by his life of brute creator power; and this then is reflected in how he treats his creation (humanity). He purchases a group of people for salvation based upon meeting the dictates of his Law or Covenant of Works and again, not his life of Love and Grace. I see a direct correlation between how salvation is framed differently within these disparate schemas.

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  6. Hi Bobby,

    The motivation behind using “onto-relations” to relate the one-ness and three-ness of the Godhead is a commendable one, but I see two potential problems with this approach. (1) It doesn’t seem to take sufficient account of the particularity of the three persons, and (2) it suggests a constitution of the being of the Godhead by communion, which is effectively a substitution of the Aristotelian metaphysics you were arguing against, i.e. a “thingness of Godness”, for another abstraction, namely perichoresis, which you then employ to “define the one subject of the Monarchia”.

    This seems far from the Cappadocian vision of the Trinity. Firstly, referring to the particularity of the persons, Basil of Caesarea has noted that what is common among the Three is within the ousia (poorly translated as substance/essence/being) and the hypostasis denotes what is particular. Likewise, Vladimir Lossky points out that, “the only common definition possible [of hypostasis] would be the impossibility of any common definition of the hypostaseis” (Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, p113). Building on the first point then, the idea of perichoresis only works if the persons are understood as primary without being subject to a concept of being defined by relations (here, I differ from Zizioulas), and not even onto-relations.

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  7. Hi Loe-Joo,

    Honored to have you comment. (1) Would you care on developing a little further on what you mean by onto-relations not providing the kind of particularity to persons that you think is more viable? I have heard this objection before, from a Thomist I was once arguing with; but he didn’t seem to really have the resource in Thomas an alternative account of person in the God-head V. the one provided by onto-relation. But I am curious in what way you think onto-relation suggests lack in describing the particularity of hypostasis in the monarchia. (2) I have also heard this charge made against a Torrancian notion of onto-relation; and this from Barthians usually, those who would argue for a post-metaphysical (if possible) conception of the hypostaseis (and the appeal to modal language in re. to their self-replicating notion of God). I am cognizant of the fact that TFT really is about personalising or as Leithart might say ‘evangelizing metaphysics’ in a way that better emphasizes God’s dynamic being as God, and I am open to your critique and those who follow Barth (I am prone to follow the Barthians actually, if anything). That said, while what I am arguing for (suggestively) might be simply replacing one metaphysic for another (which is by definition, abstract in some ways); I am not as concerned with whether or not I am using a certain metaphysic as I am with how said metaphysic is able to handle the weightiness of handling God’s Self-revelation in Christ and the subsequent categories that come subsequently, as a result of that revelation. In other words, you will have to persuade me further for why I should reject onto-relation for something else.

    For the benefit of those who are unaware of what Thomas Torrance means with his language of onto-relation let me quote him a little on this:

    “. . . Thus the Father is Father precisely in his indivisible ontic
    relation to the Son and the Spirit, and the Son and the Spirit are what they are as Son
    and Spirit precisely in their indivisible ontic relations to the Father and to One another.
    That is to say, the relations between the divine Persons belong to what they are as
    Persons—they are constitutive onto—relations. ‘Person’ is an onto-relational concept.”
    Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, 157.

    Like I noted in the body of the post, for Torrance (and me so far) this means there is a subject-in-object distinction that inheres between the persons of the divine life in their relational relation one to the other. I don’t agree, so far, Loe-Joo with your critique of this, and its inability to maintain an actual distinction between the hypostasis of the monarchia. I will look forward to seeing how you substantiate your claim on this further.

    You are right to note that Torrance’s view of the Trinity is far from the Cappadocian vision; in his book The Trinitarian Faith TFT engages in a heavy critique of the Cappadocians, and their, what he would consider, subordinationist conception of God’s immanent life. Torrance argues against the Cappadocians by grounding the shape of God’s Triune identity in the one being of God, shared by the persons in koinonial co-inherence and indwellment. He believes that the failure of the Cappadocians was what you repeat; that the particularity of the persons (economically) abstracted from the being of God only can result in a subordination of the Son to the Father etc. since it does not start in a shared and consubstantial being given orientation by the relations of the persons (there is a dialecticism here that needs to be appreciated). Here TFT quotes Epiphianius contra the Cappadocians:

    God is one, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit . . . true enhypostatic Father, and true enhypostatic Son, and true enhypostatic Holy Spirit, three Persons, one Godhead, one being, one glory, one God. In thinking of God you conceive of the Trinity, but without confusing in your mind the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, but there is no deviation in the Trinity from oneness and identity. (Epiphanius, “Anc., 10,” cited by T. F. Torrance, “The Trinitarian Faith,” 234-35)

    Loe-Joo, I appreciate your push back; but I remain unconvinced by you. I don’t agree with you or the Cappadocians that onto-relation cannot maintain the kind of particularity that you fear it cannot. Further, I am even more concerned that appeal to the Cappadocians does indeed result in the kind of subordinationism that Torrance is so wary of in re. to the Cappadocians. How do you counter the concern that the Cappadocians actually present subordination through their conception of hypostasis vis-a-vis their doctrine of God?

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  8. I think TFT’s concern with the Cappadocians is that he fears that they are offering a pre-critical paleo version of social Trinitarianism; so that we end up with three distinct subjects. In fact, yeah, that’s exactly what TFT is concerned with, and I am concerned with that too. Whether that be found in the Cappadocians or contemporary proponents of social Trinitarainism.

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  9. Here is a post I wrote awhile ago as I was interacting with Tom McCall’s book on the Trinity:

    In Tom McCall’s critique of Eastern Orthodox and Trinitarian theologian, John Zizoulas; McCall offers a proposal that is highly similar (if not self-same) with that of Thomas F. Torrance’s. McCall is appreciative of Zizoulas’ emphasis on Being-As-Communion as definitive for how we should conceive of the divine Monarchia or God-head, but like Torrance, contra the Cappadocians; McCall finds concern with Zizoulas’ retrieval, as it were of the Cappadocian grounding of the God-head in the Person’s, or Person (the Father), instead of the Being of God (ousia) which is given shape by the mutual in-dwelling, subject-in-being kind of onto-relating (as Torrance calls it) that as Torrance has highlighted someone like Epiphanius or Athanasius has offered in the Patristic Tradition. McCall sketches, and develops what is called the Sovereign Aseity Conviction, which is the belief that God alone gives himself his own being. McCall is worried that when this reality is correlated with Zizoulas’ belief that ‘Being-As-Communion’ is understood as definitive for God, and further, when the conception of Sovereign Aseity is grounded in the Person of the Father, rather than an actual Being that is indeed in communion; that we end up with a non sequitur (and I share his worry). For if the definition of God-ness is indeed given primary shape by BAC, then to posit (as Zizoulas does) that there is principle of God-ness, such as Father, prior to the possibility for genuine communion to inhere; then we end up with a non-starting conception of God-ness if this conception is going to be defined by being-in-communion. [There is further discussion needed to parse this out further, and McCall provides it; discussion on person-hood in the Monarchia etc. But I am not going to provide that here, at the moment—maybe in the comments if someone wants. I am highlighting McCall’s critique of Zizoulas here because it sounds very very similar to Thomas Torrance’s critique of the Cappadocians in his book Trinitarian Faith]. Here is McCall on Zizoulas, and McCall’s counter-proposal to Zizoulas:

    [T]he first adjustment [to Zizoulas’ view] is this: the SAC [Sovereign Aseity Conviction] must be seen as a property of the triune God rather than as a property of the Father alone. As we have seen, to predicate the SAC of the Father alone is to raise several concerns, not least of which is whether this means that the Father is of a different essence than is the Son or Spirit. To assert that the Father alone is unthrown and a se is to say that the Father has different essential properties than does the Son or Spirit — properties that are not either accidental properties (after all, this seems to be what it means to be the Father) or “onto-relational” properties. But to predicate the SAC of the Trinity alleviates this problem; it makes the SAC an essential property of divinity, one that is had by each and all of the divine persons. Furthermore, the ascription of the SAC to God is the way the biblical writers think of it (e.g., Exod. 3:14). [Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?, 207]

    I agree with McCall’s call for an adjustment relative to Zizoulas’ conceiving of things; just as I agree with Thomas Torrance’s call for a dependence on Athanasius, Epiphanius, Didymus the Blind, et alia in contrast to the Cappadocians. A contrast that sees the importance of grounding God’s being-in-communion in the Sovereign-Aseity of all the Persons mutual-indwellment of the other; instead of annexing this to the person of the Father alone (which would be contradictory because of prior conflict given the defined premises).

    Anyway, besides the important theology being noted here; it makes me wonder how much McCall has depended on Thomas Torrance’s proposal, contra the Cappadocians, for his (McCall’s) own proposal contra Zizoulas? Let me close with a quote from Torrance, quoting Epiphanius, in Torrance’s ‘Trinitarian Faith’:

    [G]od is one, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit . . . true enhypostatic Father, and true enhypostatic Son, and true enhypostatic Holy Spirit, three Persons, one Godhead, one being, one glory, one God. In thinking of God you conceive of the Trinity, but without confusing in your mind the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, but there is no deviation in the Trinity from oneness and identity. (Epiphanius, “Anc., 10,” cited by T. F. Torrance, “The Trinitarian Faith,” 234-35)

    (originally posted at this link: http://evangelicalcalvinist.blogspot.com/2012/05/trinity-tom-mccall-critiques-zizoulas.html )

    So as this has jarred my memory even further; Loe-Joo, the concern I have with the Cappadocians is that they don’t see one subject when it comes to the particularity of the hypostaseis of the Monarchia; and what they share in common in the ousia is something that is first grounded in the Father as the ingenerate prius so to speak (for the Cappadocians). So 1) in what meaningful way do the Son and Holy Spirit share in common the ousia of God; and 2) how do you and/or the Cappadocians avoid positing a social Trinitarianism wherein we end up with three distinct subjects in the Monarchia? And ultimately, then, how do you avoid tri-theism. If there are 3 distinct subjects (V. 1) that is present in the God-head, then I cannot imagine how we don’t have 3 distinct God’s in the God-head. A better way to deal with this, I think, still is onto-relation. There is an obvious ineffability we are working with here, but onto-relation and mutual indwellment subject-in-distinction-in-relation, for my money, is a much more fruitful and orthodox path to follow than the cappadocians or some version of that today.

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  10. Perhaps instead of speaking of the “Cappadocians” in general terms, it might be best to specify which Cappadocian one has in mind and to cite specific texts. I have been immersed in St Gregory the Theologian for the past six months, and I hardly recognize him in the above comments; yet I think he qualifies as one of the Cappadocians, if not the most important Cappadocian. Regarding Gregory, by the way, I highly recommend *Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God* by Christopher Beeley, as well as John McGuckin’s essay on Gregory’s trinitarian theology: http://goo.gl/WwUVd. They offer somewhat different interpretations, but both are instructive and should be brought into conversation with each other.

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  11. Hi Bobby

    (1) To illustrate what I mean by not taking the particularities of the three persons seriously enough, let me start with the quote of TFT that you mentioned;

    “Thus the Father is Father precisely in his indivisible ontic
    relation to the Son and the Spirit, and the Son and the Spirit are what they are as Son
    and Spirit precisely in their indivisible ontic relations to the Father and to One another.
    That is to say, the relations between the divine Persons belong to what they are as
    Persons—they are constitutive onto—relations. ‘Person’ is an onto-relational concept.”

    In describing the intra-trinitarian relationships, the term “relations” is often employed to suggest that the three Persons are inextricably connected to one another. But I think it is important not to lose sight of that fact that not all relations are the same, and that each relation is particular. Hence, the Father-Son relationship is different from the Son-Father relationship since the Father “begat “the Son but the Son did not “begat the Father”. Likewise, the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father (I am bracketing the issue of filioque because in this case it’s not relevant) but the Father did not “proceed” from the Spirit. It is this a-symmetry in the intra-trinitarian relations that allows us to distinguish between Father, Son and Spirit. When we abstractise these into “relations”, there is the risk of obscuring the distinctions between them. Cappadocian theology in fact sees any commonality between these relations to be found in the ousia rather than in the hypostaseis. Having said that, I understand the need to preserve the equality and mutuality of the Persons, but am not entirely comfortable in substituting a term like “onto-relations” in place of terms like generation and procession. For a similar reason, Basil was against Eunomius for using the term “Ingenerate” to describe the Father even though theologically it seemed to fit.

    (2) About TFT’s and your concerns that the Cappadocians lean towards social trinitarianism or even tritheism, this was actually dealt with in Gregory of Nyssa’s “Ad Ablabium: On Not Three Gods”. In short, Gregory argued from an account of divine power based on the doctrine of divine simplicity to conclude that the divine nature had to be unitary. This was also consistent with the prevailing theological matrix of his time which included a strong appreciation of this doctrine of divine simplicity, i.e. that there is a fundamental non-compositeness to the divine existence. I would actually argue that without a prior appreciation of simplicity, it is impossible to understand the subsequent attempts at working out a theological language of distinction and relationship by the Fathers. I do think that some of TFT concerns about the Cappadocians needs to be reread in the light of recent work done by patristic scholars like Ayres, Barnes, Behr, (and more recently A. Radde-Gallwitz and M. DelCogliano).

    BTW, the quotation from Epiphianius which you cited from TFT’s book (“The Trinitarian Faith,” 234-35) seemed to be pro-Cappadocian rather than contra as you mentioned?

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  12. “referring to the particularity of the persons, Basil of Caesarea has noted that what is common among the Three is within the ousia (poorly translated as substance/essence/being) and the hypostasis denotes what is particular.”

    Loe-Joo, I was wondering if you might explain further what you think ousia means and why the three common words employed to translate it (substance, essence, being) are misleading. Thanks!

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  13. Loe-Joo,

    Thank you for your response.

    Let me get back to you further, at a later date. I haven’t been so immersed in this by way of my readings for over a year, and so my recall at the moment is lacking. I know there is more to be said, on my part; like understanding the differences between unity of being theologians V. unity of will, and how that implicates what both you and I are disagreeing over. Jon M. Robertson’s Christ As Mediator provides some of the distinction I would like to explore further with you at a later date (in other words I will post on this again as I get to it and can).

    You wrote:

    Having said that, I understand the need to preserve the equality and mutuality of the Persons, but am not entirely comfortable in substituting a term like “onto-relations” in place of terms like generation and procession. For a similar reason, Basil was against Eunomius for using the term “Ingenerate” to describe the Father even though theologically it seemed to fit.

    But my concern remains; if you don’t have something like onto-relations (even with its dangers at you highlight) in place, then I am still not sure how you avoid a subordinationism of some kind. Simply asserting that the monarchia is grounded in a shared and common power (simplicity) doesn’t really help; it remains at a level of assertion for heuristic purpose and even appears to be tautologous to what you are trying to argue. I will want to revisit this once I have time to work through TFT’s Trinitarian Faith (have you read this?) again, and this whole issue.

    2) Again, to reiterate; to argue from a brute power or philosophical simplicty might be the context through which some of the patristics operated (at a grammar level); but TFT isn’t trying to read straight off of their page, he is engaging in a constructive project of his own. And as of yet all see you doing, Loe-Joo is affirming a kind of trad classical reading that is making appeal to the same kind of abstract (appeal to simplicity and brute God power) as the metaphysical ground from which you are seeking to move. But again this seems like a tautologous exercise, and not one that is readily dealing with the fact that to appeal to some sort of mode of abstract power does not engage this through the Revealed categories of who God is in Christ; the Revealed categories must start with the fact that God has always already been eternally defined by the Father/Son relation (not some brute notion of power), and this as Athanasius would argue against Arius and one of his students (whose name is escaping me).

    TFT quotes Epiphianius against the Cappodocians; have you read TFT, Loe-Joo?

    Fr, Kimel,

    Let me refresh myself, and I will get more specific with you on this in the near future.

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  14. “Loe-Joo, I was wondering if you might explain further what you think ousia means and why the three common words employed to translate it (substance, essence, being) are misleading. Thanks!”

    Loe-Joe, I just want you to know that my request was intended genuinely. I see that you have done your doctoral work on the trinitarian theology of St Basil; hence when you say that “substance,” “essence,” “being” do not translate well what *ousia* means for the Cappadocians, I take that seriously, especially when I have no idea what *ousia* really means for them either. I welcome your insights and instruction. Thanks!

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  15. Apologies for the silence. Having a migraine episode these few days. Will reply when my brain decides to stop pounding hopefully next week .

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  16. Hey, Bobby, I don’t know how I missed this post before. Thanks for the plug for my FB page!

    I think I see what you’re getting at now. So then would EC deny the ontological Trinity-economic Trinity distinction?

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  17. Michael,

    No, we (or I) just see them as univocal; i.e. the ontological is economic. With the caveat that there are certain things in the economic that cannot be read back into the ontological (like skin, teeth, etc.).

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  18. Hi all,

    Sorry again for the late reply. Chinese New Year festivities do have an impact on academic correspondence. And thank you, Fr Kimel for your concern. Indeed, migraines are terrible, unfortunately they also seem rather difficult to banish.

    Bobby

    Regarding your point that the Cappadocian Trinitarianism may lapse into subordination, and that this was especially a concern of TFT, could you elaborate more on why this was so? As to how the Cappadocians managed to avoid subordination, I see Basil’s entire goal of the desynonymisation of ousia and hypostasis was to open up theological space for the co-divinity of the Son (and later the Spirit) with the Father through attribution of the terms unbegottenness and begottenness not to the incomprehensible divine ousia but rather to the particular hypostasis of the Father as Father and the Son as Son. This was the corollary to his arguments against Eunomius when he realized there was a need to reconceptualise the two terms, terms which were taken as synonyms during Nicea. That there was no variation in the common ousia that is shared among the Persons means that was no subordination of any form. Perhaps you were referring to the Monarchy of the Father as that has led to some concerns of subordination? If so, maybe that’s another discussion that we can continue further.

    Fr Kimel

    I understand Basil’s usage of the term “ousia” to refer to that which is common among the three hypostaseis rather than a substance in the usual sense of the word. So the rendering of it as “substance/essence/being” could be misleading as it seems to connote an ontology that has an in se existence of its own outside of the hypostaseis. That would have been inconceivable to Basil, and I actually see similarities here to what Bobby meant in his original blog post; that there is no underlying “thingness of Godness” that stands behind the Persons.

    A quote from Basil’s letter to Amphilochius (St Basil, Letters, Vols. I-IV, Letter 236, p403) might help clarify what he meant:

    But ousia and hypostasis have the distinction that the general has with reference to the particular…For this reason, we confess one ousia for the Godhead, so as not to hand down variously the definition of Its existence, but we confess a hypostasis that is particular, in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be for us unconfused and plain. For unless we think of characteristics that are sharply defined in the case of each, as for example paternity and sonship and holiness, but from the general notion of being confess God, it is impossible to hand down a sound definition of the faith.

    To both – may I suggest we continue the conversations through email? I think right now there could be too many simultaneous issues on the table, and perhaps a blog is not the best forum for discussion. My email is tanlj at ttc-dot-edu-dot-sg.

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  19. Thank you, Tan (am I right in thinking that Tan is your first name?). You may expect an email from me sometime in the future.

    I have just published a three-part blog article on the monarchy of the Father in St Gregory of Nazianzus: http://goo.gl/GiA3h. I am no scholar and I welcome yours and Bobby’s input.

    Regarding Basil, would it be fair to say that he takes a grammatical approach to the divine ousia? But perhaps that is a question I should put in my email to you. 🙂

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  20. Loe-Joo, sorry for calling you Tan. I know a Tan, and a Tam for that matter :-).

    Let me refresh some of this material, and get back to you in the days to come. I really appreciate you spending any of your time here. Blessings!

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